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52 FNMs – My Name Is Jon, and I'm Playing Séance


When did I become so preoccupied with winning? I’m not sure when it happened, but I’m really in a rut in which I care about winning the tournament a bunch. Don’t get me wrong; I do care about not making mistakes and playing the best Magic I can, but I’ve been taking the losses pretty hard lately.

Maybe that’s a good thing. Honestly, there’s no point in playing bigger events if you don’t think you’re capable of winning every round. Unfortunately, I don’t get to play a ton of Magic right now, so every tournament feels like it’s my last shot to “get there,” so to speak.

Grand Prix: Baltimore was only the third Grand Prix I’ve ever been to, so I still wasn’t used to the big hall, the big names, and the all-night grind of games away from home. The people who are used to that kind of lifestyle definitely have a big leg up when it comes to bigger tournaments; they know that sometimes, you scrub out; luck happens. They also know that there will be more opportunities—many more.

My summer schedule looks like this:

June 16 – World Cup Qualifier (Baltimore, MD)

July 21, 22 – Grand Prix: Columbus

August 25, 26 – Grand Prix: Boston

Plus whatever PTQs I can make it to. (Thanks, MtG Mom!)

Those aren’t that many events, which really ratchets up the pressure. There’s a podcast that I highly recommend called How Did This Get Made?, in which two guys and a girl have a guest on every other week or so, and they discuss terrible movies and how they make no sense. It’s very funny. They’ve discussed seminal bad movies like Battlefield: Earth and The Room as well as lesser known garbage like 88 Minutes and Cool As Ice, the Vanilla Ice movie.

In one episode, they discuss Punisher: War Zone with special guests Patton Oswalt and Lexi Alexander, the latter of whom directed the movie. Lexi describes the gravity of having her first big-budget feature also be a beloved comic book franchise and how much it intimidated her. She notes that, “fear is not a good place from which to be creative.”

To me, Magic is less mathematical than it is creative. Sure, there are odds and likelihoods involved in playing the game, but to me, things such as crafting a deck to win and finding the correct play usually require more creativity than most people give them credit for. So to continuously live in fear that this is your last fucking shot to get a win on the board for a whole month, that affects your decision-making, from deck choice to in-game decisions. And I’d argue that this fear has an adverse effect.

So, what’s the solution? The same as it always was: Play more Magic. That’s the dirty little secret. Magic is exhausting, and when you’re dead in the tournament, you might want to go home, but if you want to become better, you’d better find a money Draft, a Standard win-a-box, or something, anything . . . or else, you’re standing still.

For me, I’m going to try to ignore my instincts to try and win for the sake of this column; it’s insane to keep expecting wins while going into an FNM every week where there are a fair number of good players while I’m playing a different deck each time. I’ll always want to win every other event I play in, but until August 24, I’m going to settle for tight play and fun times on Friday nights. If I fail on either of those fronts, I can beat myself up, but not for things outside of my control.

With that in mind, I decided to run this monstrosity last Friday, courtesy of commenter ReAnimator:

I went into FNM with no expectations, and I also got to see the look on everyone’s faces when I told them I was running Séance.

Them: “So you’re running Mirror-Mad Phantasm combo?

Me, grinning like an idiot: “Nope!”

Them: [walk away]

If the Séance wasn’t enough for them, I knew I could elicit a decent reaction if I told them I was running four copies of Screeching Skaab. Usually that stark fact was met with incredulity and an almost indignant, “Why don’t you ever change the decks?”

Taken from Luis Scott-Vargas, found here:

After [Shaheen Soorani’s] girlfriend generously made the trek back to her car to grab the deck, since parking at the Grand Ol Opry is nothing short of maze-like, I had a deck and was ready to battle. As is the custom when handed a deck, I didn’t change a single card . . . It was an interesting experience, playing a deck I had no hand in, up to and including not changing a single card. Even when I start testing, I often make a tweak or two before I begin, such as cutting cards I despise. In this case, that’s exactly what I’m talking about, but I still followed the unwritten rule of the last-minute audible. It’s kind of liberating, even, since I could put my fate in someone else’s hands.

If I were to change every deck I play for FNM, they’d all start to look very similar. On top of being a foolproof way to deflect the source of any losses I might incur, leaving the decks the way they were built also ensures that all my decks don’t start looking the same or suffer the fate of me taking out cards that I think are bad that I’ve just misevaluated.

That said, some of the numbers in this deck make no sense whatsoever, but I’ll get to those after the games.

Round 1 – Gino Vittore

Gino sits down and good-naturedly starts complaining that we were paired together and that this wasn’t supposed to happen until the last few rounds because it seems like we always play each other in the final rounds. I’m assuming he’s going to be playing B/W tokens, like always, so I assure him that I’m playing a bad deck this week and he’s going to wreck me. I mean, come on; I’m playing one copy of Unburial Rites, one copy of Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite.

There’s no getting around it: The deck is fun to play. Chaining Screeching Skaabs and filling your graveyard once Séance is in play, watching your opponent’s head swell up as you hit Sun Titan after Sun Titan, wrecking people with Séance . . . it’s fun! Standard is an extremely aggressive format right now, with the best decks either resolving Huntmaster of the Fells on turn three or trying to protect a turn-one Insectile Aberration, but if you happen to be paired up against one of the sub-tier midrange decks . . . Séance eats those for lunch.

Gino’s not playing one of those midrange decks; he’s playing W/U Delver with Spectral Flight, but he’s pretty unlucky and doesn’t start either of our games with turn-one Delver of Secrets. The closest Gino comes to winning a match is our first game, when he puts a Spectral Flight on a Geist of Saint Traft, but I have the Phantasmal Image for it and take the game handily from there.

Both games go similarly: I start on a Screeching Skaab, then either Armored Skaab or Forbidden Alchemy the turn after that, and then Séance on turn four to start filling up my graveyard super-quick. I also get to resolve the miser’s Unburial Rites both games, both times on the miser’s Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, giving an unrealistic presentation of how the deck works.


“That was a crappy deck, huh?” Gino asks me dejectedly, as we de-sideboard after Game 2.

I tell him the truth. “I think I got very good draws, and you got really shitty ones. It happens sometimes.” I pause, wondering whether I should tell him the Unburial Rites and the Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite in my deck are both one-ofs . . . before deciding to tell him, as gently as I could, that I runner-runnered him in consecutive games.

To his credit, he took it in stride.

Round 2 – Ryan Nguyen

Cloud City’s meta is strange. It’s very skewed toward aggro, as most scenes with lower-level players are, which is not to say you could just bring a control deck and clean up—you definitely couldn’t without a little luck. The aggro decks are just too fast.

Is white weenie the oldest deck archetype in the history of Magic? It has to be. Ryan’s deck of choice for the past infinite months has been white weenie, and there’s something novel about the idea of an eleven-year-old playing an archetype older than he is. Doomed Traveler into Honor of the Pure might as well be Benalish Hero into Crusade.

Magic doesn’t change as much as we think it does.

Ryan and I split the first two in what turn out to be some serious nail-biters. Despite being put to 2 life by a bunch of flyers, I win Game 2 on the back of a very timely Vault of the Archangel that allows me to gain 16 life off my otherwise irrelevant board full of ground dorks. Vault of the Archangel is bonkers.

Game 3 really showed the power of the deck, and it allowed me to fully realize why it’s packing Venser, the Sojourner and Wing Splicer; I stabilize at 16 life, a decent cushion, but I have no way to punch through his army until I drop Séance and Venser, the Sojourner on back-to-back turns.

Venser, the Sojourner allows me to blink my Wing Splicer every turn, and Séance ensures that he can’t crack back profitably until I amass 20 power onboard (I haven’t been able to deal him a single point of damage yet), whereupon I swing with an unblockable army.


Round 3 – Al French

Al is playing B/R Zombies and beats me in three games. None of the games are worth going into much detail over. He runs out of gas too early in Game 2, and I also play a turn-three Armored Skaab on the play, which is virtually impossible for him to attack into.

Games 1 and 3, I have no Armored Skaabs—there’re only two in the deck—and Al wins handily. In Game 3, he has me at 2 life for a while, but he has no creatures to capitalize on it. He finds a Brimstone Volley before I find a Vault of the Archangel, and that’s that.


Round 4 – R.J. Fischer

It’s the second white weenie match of the night. If you’re thinking about coming to Cloud City for FNM, you’d better be able to deal with turn-one Champion of the Parish, turn-two Gather the Townsfolk; that’s all I’m saying. R.J.’s deck had a small black splash for Lingering Souls, but mostly, it was straight white.

We split our first two games.

Game 3, I’m staring down a flying Spirit token from Midnight Haunting that’s being bolstered by an Honor of the Pure and an Intangible Virtue. Eventually, I’m at 3 life. I have one draw step to rip something that keeps me from losing. I have six lands and a Sun Titan in my hand, but I can’t return anything that keeps me from dying. I start making a plan for if I draw Day of Judgment, planning to trade it for a single token creature.

I draw my card. It’s a . . .

Ratchet Bomb? Wow, I forgot all about that one!

I cast Ratchet Bomb, pass the turn, and start thinking about my next turn, which will involve me casting Sun Titan and not losing in this or any other universe.

R.J. attacks, and I sacrifice Ratchet Bomb.

He has three Lingering Souls in his graveyard, but he’s pinched on black mana, and he has been all game. So I should be dead, but I’m not.

On my turn, I cast Sun Titan. He looks down at the lone card in his hand—a Midnight Haunting—and nods.

I return Ratchet Bomb, and R.J. makes an indistinct noise of disapproval.

He finds black mana, but no Go for the Throat for my Sun Titan, and I eventually take the game down.


Round 5 – Mark Carfagno

Mark is playing a G/W Tempered Steel deck that pretty much rolls me in two of the slowest (Mark still plays insanely slowly; he is my least favorite person to play against, all-time, I think) fast games in the history of mankind. I can’t deal with his fast creatures, his Tempered Steel, or his sideboarded Ray of Revelation, and I just get rolled.


The deck was extremely fun to play with, but I think I’d make some changes to it:

That’s kind of a rough sketch, but it takes out all the bad cards. Screeching Skaab was downright terrible; it never attacked once or stopped a single creature from attacking. Pacifism was boarded out for Oblivion Ring every single game. I lost a lot of Game 1s simply because I had no Wrath effects.

Those were my only problems with the deck, though—the rest of it was a blast to play, and I highly recommend it to someone looking to have a fun time at FNM. I threw in Dream Twist because I figured part of the spirit of this deck was laying the smackdown with unconventional means, and I think Dream Twist fits that bill nicely.

See you next week!

Jon Corpora

Pronounced Ca-pora


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